The Pharisaic Style in Weber's Sociology of Charisma

Paul Joosse, University of Hong Kong

This paper theorizes the importance of the "Pharisaic style" to Weber's descriptions of charismatic interaction. By drawing on insights from the performative turn in social theory, along with recent work that has described a series of “charismatic counter-roles,” the paper develops an interactional description of "Pharisees": elite figures from the rational-legal and traditional spheres who, through expressions of shock, exasperation, and moral outrage, help to define societal expectations about the (seeming) impossibility of the leader’s success. Equipped with imposibilist characterizations from these elite figures, even minor victories by the aspiring charismatic leader come to be regarded as miraculous. By performing Pharisaic incredulousness along both sceptical and moralistic modalities, these actors thereby create what is in essence the social-interactional negative-image of the charismatic miracle. I find that such onlookers continue to play a critical role in buoying and propelling the Trump phenomenon. The "Pharisaic style" is a concept readily understandable within the sociology of religion, but less so within political sociology. By theorizing the Pharisaic style, we can thus simultaneously better understand the meaning-oriented and sacred dimensions of charisma that are evident in Weber's thought, while also drawing closer to promise Weber saw in the universal applicability of the ideal type.

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 Presented in Session 49. Rethinking Max Weber for a New Sociology of Religion